Catherine II

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Catherine II of Russia (1780s) Signature Katharina II..PNG

Catherine II. , Called Catherine the Great ( Russian : Екатерина Великая / Ekaterina Velikaya; * 2. May 1729 as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst in Szczecin † November 6, jul. / 17th November  1796 greg. In Saint Petersburg ) , was Empress of Russia from July 9, 1762 and Mistress of Jever from 1793 . She is the only ruler who has been given the epithet the Great in history . Catherine II is a representative of enlightened absolutism .



Catherine, around 15 years old, in a painting by Louis Caravaque (1745)

Katharina II was born in 1729 as Princess Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst (usually called Sophie or Sophia von Anhalt-Zerbst in literature) in Stettin . She was the daughter of Prince Christian August von Anhalt-Zerbst from the Askanians , the Prussian general and governor of Stettin at the time, and his wife Johanna Elisabeth von Holstein-Gottorf , the younger sister of Adolf Friedrich , who became King of Sweden in 1751. Thus Katharina was a relative of the new Swedish ruling house Holstein-Gottorf .

She spent her childhood in Szczecin Castle , interrupted by visits to relatives and others. a. in Braunschweig , Zerbst , Berlin and Varel . In 1739 she stayed in Eutin Castle , where she first met her future husband. After the death of Johann August von Anhalt-Zerbst and the resulting assumption of government by her father Christian August in 1742, the family moved to Zerbst Castle in December 1742 .

In 1743 Tsarina Elisabeth Petrovna decided on the advice of Frederick II , her successor, the Russian heir to the throne Grand Duke Peter Fyodorovich and later Emperor Peter III. to marry the first tsar from the Romanow-Holstein-Gottorp dynasty, which ruled until 1918 , to Sophie, his second cousin. In January 1744, Sophie's journey began from Zerbst to Russia via Berlin, where she visited Friedrich II, Reval and St. Petersburg to Moscow , where she arrived in February 1744. With ambition and determination, the talented fourteen-year-old quickly learned the Russian language and tried to integrate herself at court. The engagement took place on June 29th . / July 10, 1744 greg. instead and on August 21st jul. / September 1, 1745 greg. was the wedding. The wedding celebrations lasted ten days. One day before the engagement she converted from Evangelical Lutheran to Orthodox and was given the name Ekaterina Alexejewna in honor of Ekaterina I , the mother of the ruling empress. Her change of faith was met with great dissatisfaction with her father. The marriage was not harmonious. Already on the wedding night it became clear that the Grand Duke felt little interest and affection for Katharina: while she was waiting for him in the bedchamber, he returned from his party late at night, drunk.

Catherine as Grand Duchess (painting by Alexej Antropow , 1760)

Grand Duchess Katharina was a cheerful and intelligent woman. She liked to play music and read a lot, preferably historical and political-theoretical works ( Montesquieu , Voltaire ) in order to sharpen her understanding of politics. Above all, she was always informed about what was going on at court. She attended every service and took part in religious life. In the meantime, Grand Duke Peter created his own world in Oranienbaum (today Lomonossow ) and cultivated his preference for everything Prussian, especially the military. At first he tied Katharina into his games with the little soldiers and made her wear the Prussian uniform. But soon both lost all connection to each other.

On October 1, 1754, after nine years of marriage, Katharina gave birth to a son. Although there were rumors of a love affair with the Grand Duchess, her husband and the Empress recognized the child Pavel Petrovich (Paul) as legitimate. His upbringing and that of his daughter Anna, who was born on December 9th, 1757 and died on March 9th, 1759, was taken care of by his great-aunt Elisabeth. The children were separated from their mother immediately after birth. In 1762, the year Tsarina Elisabeth died, Katharina gave birth to her son Alexei Grigoryevich Bobrinsky (1762–1813) through connection with her lover Grigory Orlow .

Catherine II maintained a lively correspondence with Voltaire, whom she valued as much as Denis Diderot . Voltaire, the mastermind of the Enlightenment , called her the brightest star in the north and saw her as a philosopher on the throne. Her deep affection and admiration showed when she incorporated his ideas into her “Great Instruction”. In addition, she supported him financially and after his death bought his library , which is now in the National Library in Saint Petersburg . In 1776 Friedrich II ensured her honorary membership in the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences .

Coup against Peter III.

Grand Duke Peter with Grand Duchess Katharina and son Paul (painting by RM Lisiewska , 1756)
Catherine in equestrian uniform on horseback (1762)

On December 25, 1761 Jul. / January 5, 1762 greg. Elisabeth died . Then Katharina's husband came as Tsar Peter III . to power. The image of the government of Peter III. was later marked negatively by his wife and successor: This is how Peter III. Allegedly behaved inappropriately silly during the days of mourning. This angered both Catherine and large parts of the Russian people. Katharina urged her husband to "moderate", also and especially in politics. But the first state acts of Peter III. were a separate peace with Prussia, which meant the end of the Seven Years' War , but brought disadvantages for Russia, and the introduction of an extensive enlightened reform program, which attracted the hostility of the country's conservative forces.

Katharina and her confidants then planned a risky coup. She first secured the support of a few guard regiments, in which the Orlow brothers served, among others , then she was proclaimed tsarina on July 9, 1762, while tsar Peter III. has been declared deposed. Katharina moved with the guard to Peterhof, where Peter III. was staying at the time. Peter III first fled to Kronstadt , but returned and then signed his deed of abdication in Oranienbaum. On the same day, Catherine was declared the sole ruler of Russia by Metropolitan Sechin in the Kazan Cathedral of Saint Petersburg . Peter III was captured and died on July 17, 1762 under unknown circumstances. After the situation in the country had calmed down again after Peter's death, Catherine II was born on September 22nd . / October 3, 1762 greg. was crowned Tsarina of Russia in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin , after which she ruled the country for 34 years. Since Catherine II did not re-enter the Seven Years War , but to the Peter III. The Prussian King Frederick II awarded her the Order of the Black Eagle on November 22, 1762 .

Domestic politics

The central goal of their domestic policy was to establish state power in all parts of the huge empire. The reform of 1775 - one of the most important domestic political projects of Catherine II - gave the Russian Empire a new administrative structure: It was divided into 40 governorates and received a new local administration. This was new in that it included local elites - above all the nobility and the merchant class - more closely in the administration and opened up new fields of activity for state activity, such as education, poor relief or medical care for the civilian population.

Soon after taking power, on October 14, 1762, Katharina issued a manifesto in which the Imperial Senate was given express permission to allow foreigners to settle in the country. Since the publication of this first manifest did not have the hoped-for response abroad, Catherine II signed the manifest of July 22, 1763, with which she enabled thousands of German farmers to settle on the plains on both sides of the Volga . She promised the settlers freedom of religion, tax exemption and the right to dispose of their land. In this context one speaks of the Volga Germans .

From 1764, Katharina expanded the emerald green Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to include an extension for her painting collection: the Hermitage was built .

Catherine II in the regalia of the ruling Tsarina (1778)
“The King's Cake” - Catherine II shares Poland like a cake with Joseph II and Frederick II of Prussia , while the Polish King Stanislaus II desperately grabs the crown (caricature Le gâteau des rois by Jean-Michel Moreau , 1773).

Together with Count Sievers, Katharina carried out the large-scale government reform in 1775. Thanks to this reform, a uniform administration with governorships, governorates and districts was introduced for the first time. Viewed historically, it represented a major turning point in Russian administrative history. From 1764, Katharina founded the first elementary schools and grammar schools in the cities as well as engineering schools. In contrast to Tsar Peter the Great, she especially promoted the establishment of elementary schools. Towards the end of their reign there was an elementary school in all Russian district towns and a grammar school in every province except the Caucasus. Attending school was voluntary and free of charge. Under Katharina's reign, the number of state schools rose from six in 1781 to 316 in 1796. At that time, 22 percent of the students were middle-class and 30 percent were peasant children. Katharina also founded welfare projects such as the establishment of hospitals and asylums for the homeless.

Catherine II maintained a lively correspondence with Voltaire and Cesare Beccaria on questions of the separation of powers and a reform of criminal law in the interests of Enlightenment . Catherine II had invited Denis Diderot to Russia as early as 1762, where he was supposed to complete the encyclopedia. In 1765 she bought his library pro forma and provided him with money for new purchases. In 1773 he stayed at the court of Saint Petersburg for a few months , where the library was also moved after his death in 1784.

In 1767 Katharina appointed a commission to draft a project for a new code ( Legislative Commission ), to which elected representatives from all parts of the country were appointed. However, the task was not so much to create a uniform jurisdiction for the different peoples of the huge empire, but rather the Empress pursued the goal of getting to know the country better in order to adapt its administration to the different circumstances. The results of the commission's work were mainly used in the preparations for the administrative reform of 1775. The commission itself was dissolved when the Turkish-Russian War broke out in 1768. A year before its dissolution, she awarded Katharina the titles “the great one” and “mother of the fatherland”.

The plague wave of 1770 represented a domestic political crisis. Despite the quarantine measures improved by Katharina in the “Charter of Border and Port Quarantine”, that plague wave reached Moscow. The epidemic wiped out half the population and led to the plague revolt in Moscow , which could only be ended with intervention from St. Petersburg.

In the Edict of Tolerance of June 17, 1773, she promised to tolerate all religious beliefs. The exception to this, however, was the large number of Jews who had been its subjects since the First Partition of Poland .

Although she was close to the Enlightenment and opened Russia to European art and literature, she was only able to act within narrow limits in her everyday political life. Even if Katharina never tried to turn the political and social models worked out by philosophers into reality, her politics were clearly shaped by the ideas of the Enlightenment. The enlightened absolutism of Catherine II stands in a row with its Western European counterparts. The central contents of enlightened-absolutist projects also marked the rule of Catherine II: Consolidation of state authority and internal state development as well as general welfare.

Despite her critical attitude towards serfdom , she did little to improve the conditions of the peasants. The situation of the peasants deteriorated dramatically during their reign, they even lost the right to complain about their masters. They only had legal recourse. At the same time, Katharina even strengthened the privileges of the nobility, as she had come to power through a coup and had to be sure of constant support from the nobility.

The empress had to do with massive social unrest, above all the Pugachev uprising (1773-1775).

Empress Catherine II (around 1780)
Empress Catherine II at a more mature age (painting by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder , 1793)

Foreign policy

Catherine II expanded Russia's sphere of influence to a greater extent than any other Russian ruler before her. In two Russo-Turkish wars 1768–1774 and 1787–1792 , it gained access to the Black Sea and large coastal areas. As a result of the three partitions of Poland , Russia gained one million km² of land and six million people. Katharina's "Greek Project", that is, the conquest of Constantinople and the re-establishment of the Byzantine Empire under Russian rule ( Greek plan ), failed because Austria left the war unilaterally in the last of Katharina's two Turkish wars and because of the simultaneous threat of an attack by the Swedes. Nevertheless, after the annexation of Crimea in 1783 and the smashing of the Crimean Khanate, large parts of today's southern Ukraine could be developed and settled as the province of New Russia . Catherine II was also able to achieve success on the diplomatic floor of Europe. The War of the Bavarian Succession was ended by her mediating role in the Peace of Teschen . During the US War of Independence, it brought about an anti-England coalition for armed neutrality to protect neutral trade. After the death of her brother, Prince Friedrich August von Anhalt-Zerbst , Katharina II inherited the rule of Jever in 1793 , which was made more concrete in 1795 by the division of Zerbst . She appointed her sister-in-law Friederike Auguste Sophie as governor .


More than twenty lovers of Catherine are known by name. Most relationships ended after a few years. What was special about Catherine II, however, was that very few of her lovers were allowed to interfere in the politics of the empress, although they often tried. Nevertheless, none of their lovers was persecuted, punished or disadvantaged after the separation, on the contrary: Most of them received generous gifts from Katharina.

Sarcophagus in the Peter and Paul Cathedral Saint Petersburg

Among the lovers and favorites of Katharina some stand out:

  • Count Saltykov , her first lover and likely father of her son Paul .
  • Stanislaus II August Poniatowski became King of Poland with the support of Catherine. He was probably Anna's father.
  • Count Grigori Orlov , who, together with his brother Alexei, played a key role in the overthrow of Tsar Peter III. was involved. He later gave Katharina the famous Orlov diamond , named after him, which was inserted into the scepter of the Russian tsars. He was the father of at least one of Katharina's children and later received the title of count and in 1773 a castle in what is now Bogorodizk . The Bobrinski family is derived from this connection.
  • Prince Potjomkin , he made a steep career in civil service, was a member of the Imperial Council and President of the War College. Potyomkin built the Black Sea Fleet and founded the cities of Sevastopol and Kherson . He is considered her great love. The two are said to have even secretly married.
  • Alexander Dmitrijew-Mamonow was Katharina's lover from 1786 to 1789. He fell from grace when he left the tsarina in favor of a sixteen-year-old lady-in-waiting.
  • Prince Platon Alexandrovich Subov , Katharina's last lover and about 29 years old when she died.

Circumstances of death

Catherine the Great died on November 17, 1796 in Saint Petersburg, officially the consequences of a stroke are given as the cause of death. She was 67 years old.


Johann von Anhalt-Zerbst
Sophie Auguste of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf
Georg Vollrath from Zeutsch on Hedersleben
Christiane von Weißenbach
Christian Albrecht of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf
Friederike Amalie of Denmark
Friedrich VII. Magnus of Baden-Durlach
Augusta Maria of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf
Johann Ludwig I of Anhalt-Zerbst
Christine Eleonore von Zeutsch
Christian August of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf
Albertine Friederike von Baden-Durlach
Christian August von Anhalt-Zerbst
Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorf
Catherine II


From the marriage with Peter III. the following children come from:

From the connection with Grigory Orlov (the daughters were officially adopted as Orlov's daughters, Katharina's motherhood is controversial):


There are numerous monuments in memory of Catherine II, for example:

  • in Odessa with the decree establishing the port and city in hand
  • in Marx : the monument to Catherine II was erected by Volga Germans in 1851, melted down in 1941 and rebuilt in 2007 according to original designs.
  • in St. Petersburg on Nevsky Prospect in front of the Alexandrinsky Theater , designed in 1873 by the sculptors M. Mikeschin , M. Tschischow and A. Opekuschin ; the base is surrounded by figures of outstanding personalities from the second half of the 18th century: A. Suvorov, A. Rumjanzew, G. Dershawin, J. Daschkowa, G. Potjomkin
  • in Zerbst : In 2009, the sculptor Michael Wladimirowitsch Perejaslawez made a larger than life bronze monument depicting Catherine II and portrayed her as a young Anhalt-Zerbst princess. The almost five meter tall bronze statue stands on a pedestal in front of the baroque town hall (former riding hall). The solemn inauguration of the monument took place on July 9, 2010, the day on which in 1744 she converted from the Evangelical Lutheran to the Orthodox faith.

Library and estate

In 1795, Catherine II founded the Russian National Library from her private collection and the holdings of Voltaire and Denis Diderots' libraries bought by Melchior Grimm . The library was the first public library in the empire. Parts of Katharina's estate are kept in the library. The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library has other letters .


  • From Rjurik's life . 1786.
  • The cheater. The deluded one. The Siberian shaman. Drey comedies against enthusiasm and superstition. Berlin (Friedrich Nicolai) 1788.
  • Memoirs of Empress Catherine II: written by herself. Hanover 1859 ( digitized version )
  • Memories of Empress Catherine II written by herself. Stuttgart 1907. read online


  • Catherinee the Second, Empress and Legislator of Russia, Instruction for the Commission ordered to prepare the draft of a new code of law , [Nachdr. d. Issue Riga u. Mietau, Hartknoch, 1768], Keip, Frankfurt (M.) 1970.
  • Catherine II in her memoirs , introduction and Afterword by Hedwig Fleischhacker . [From d. French and Soot. trans. u. ed. by Erich Boehme], Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt (M.) 1972.
  • Catherine the Great, Voltaire : Monsieur - Madame. The correspondence between the tsarina and the philosopher , edited by Hans Schumann. Manesse Verlag, Zurich 1991, ISBN 3-7175-8186-4 .


  • Robert K. Massie : Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman , New York 2011.
  • Alina Chernova: Mémoires and Mon Histoire. Tsarina Katharina the Great and Princess Katharina R. Daschkowa in their autobiographies , Frank & Timme Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-86596-121-1 .
  • Isabel de Madariaga: Russia in the age of Catherine the great , London 1981, ISBN 0-297-77394-1 .
  • Isabel de Madariaga: Catherine the Great. The life of the Russian Empress , Munich 1996, again Wiesbaden 2004 ISBN 3-937715-44-4 .
  • Erich Donnert : Catherine II, the great (1729–1796). Empress of the Russian Empire . Regensburg / Darmstadt 1998, ISBN 978-3-7917-1576-6 .
  • Olaf Mörke : The discussion about absolutism as an epoch term. A contribution about Catherine II's place in European political history , in: Eckhard Hübner, Jan Kusber, Peter Nitsche (ed.): Russia at the time of Catherine II. Absolutism - Enlightenment - Pragmatism , Böhlau, Cologne 1998, pp. 9–32 .
  • John T. Alexander: Catherine the Great: life and legend , New York, NY [u. a.] 1989, ISBN 0-19-505236-6 .
  • Reinhold Neumann-Hoditz : Katharina II. The great: With self-testimonials and picture documents , Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1988, 9th edition 2008, ISBN 978-3-499-50392-4 .
  • Henri Troyat : The great Katharina , List Verlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-471-78915-4 (French 1977)
  • Vincent Cronin : Katharina the Great , Claassen Verlag, Düsseldorf 1978. (New edition: Piper, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-492-24831-4 )
  • Gina Kaus: Katharina the Great , Verlag Allert de Lange, Amsterdam 1935. (New edition: Langen Müller, 2006, ISBN 978-3-7844-6011-6 )


Numerous feature and television films have been produced about Catherine the Great, including:

On June 1, 2003, the Franco-German TV station arte showed the documentary The Lost Secret of Catherine the Great . The film by Peter Woditsch tries to clear up the stories about the erotic rooms of the tsarina in her various residences.


  • On May 4, 1999, the asteroid (6955) Ekaterina was named after her.
  • According to Catherine II, the moss genera are Catharinea Ehrh. ex D.Mohr and Catharinella (Müll.Hal.) Kindb. named from the family of the Polytrichaceae .

Web links

Wikisource: Catherine the Great  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Katharina the Great  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Unless otherwise stated, all dates refer to the Gregorian calendar, which was not in use in Russia at the time .
  2. In contemporary usage as well as abroad it was customary until 1917 to continue speaking of the tsar ; this has been preserved in the consciousness of posterity. What this affected was not the current dignity of the empire, but the continued existence of the specifically Russian reality in the form of the Moscow tsarist empire, which served as the basis of the new empire. In the 19th century, this led to a conceptual language in literature that was not appropriate to the source and to an outmoded conceptual apparatus in German literature. In: Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547–1917 , p. 8; Hans-Joachim Torke: The state-related society in the Moscow Empire , Leiden 1974, p. 2; Reinhard Wittram: The Russian Empire and its Shape Change, in: Historische Zeitschrift Vol. 187, Issue 3 (June 1959), pp. 568–593, here p. 569.
  3. a b c Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. Written by herself. 1859. 322 pages
  4. Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. Written by herself. Page 43
  5. ^ Theresa Wobbe : Women in academy and science. Places of work and research practices 1700-2000. Akad.-Verlag, Berlin 2002, p. 2
  6. St. Petersburg Times : Catherine the Great (Ekaterina Alexeevna) ( memento of November 23, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) (English), accessed on December 18, 2019
  7. ^ Leopold von Zedlitz-Neukirch : New Preuss. Adelslexikon , Volume 2, p. 93.
  8. Ute Strimmer: Palace of Insatiability . Ed .: G history. tape 1/2019 , p. 60-63 .
  9. ^ Christoph Schmidt: Russian history 1547-1917; Oldenbourg Publishing House; 2009; P.56
  10. ^ N. Pawlenko, Catherine the Great (Ekaterina Velikaya), Moscow, 2006, pp. 225, 298
  11. Barbara Beck: Favorites of a Tsarina: One after the other . Ed .: G history. tape 1/2019 , p. 64-67 .
  12. ^ Frieder Leipold: Catherine the great. Secret of the erotic cabinet. In: historio. May 2011, archived from the original on January 1, 2013 ; accessed on January 23, 2015 .
  13. ^ Otto Magnus von Stackelberg (ed.): Genealogical manual of the Estonian knighthood , Bd .: 1, Görlitz, [1931], p. 28 .; Nicolai von Essen (Ed.): Genealogical Manual of the Oeselschen Ritterschaft , Tartu, 1935, p. 70.
  14. Цербст отдал дань великой землячке. NTV, July 10, 2010
  15. Schreier, Björn: Letters from Catherine the Great to Johann Georg Zimmermann. In: Ruppelt, Georg: bookmarks. knowledge worlds. Kehrer, Hannover 2009, pp. 46–47.
  16. Minor Planet Circ. 34625
  17. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .
predecessor Office successor
Peter III Empress of Russia
Paul I.
Friedrich August Mistress of Jever
Paul I.